November is one of the darkest and gloomiest months of the year. However, for Latvia and its people, it is the time of remembrance and cheerful celebration. Riga and Latvia shines along with its people and the thousands of candles lit by them, for it is the time of our Patriots Week.
The Patriot Ribbon
This will be the tenth year since Latvians have been celebrating their Patriot Week, starting with Lāčplēsis Day on November 11, and culminating in a magnificent celebration of the state’s anniversary on November 18. To pay their respect to Latvia’s freedom fighters and express their love for the country, hundreds of thousands of Latvians wear a small carmine-white-carmine ribbon, in the colours of the flag of Latvia, pinned to the coat close to one’s heart. This symbol bears the message: „Latvia is in my heart no matter where I go!”
The tradition of Patriot Week with carmine-white-carmine ribbons was started in 2007 by the Independent Television of Latvia (LNT) to foster patriotism and knowledge of the history of Latvia among the youth. One example of misconception among younger citizens is the Lāčplēsis Day, which, as it turns out, is not a birthday celebration of the mythical hero Lāčplēsis (or Bear-slayer). It is the anniversary of the final victory of heroic Latvian soldiers over Bermondt’s army on November 11, 1919.
Today, the idea of Patriot Week has become an important national tradition after being recognised and taken over by the Latvian Ministry of Defence and the National Armed Forces, providing miles of carmine-white-carmine ribbon for the pins each year. Events of collective ribbon folding are held all across Latvia and joined by more and more people – from children to seniors and from museum staff members to business people. Since the beginning of this tradition, more than 50 kilometres of ribbon have been folded into pins – more than 40 thousand ribbon pins being distributed to people in Riga each year.
People often ask about the ‘correct’ way to fold and wear the carmine-white-carmine ribbon. It is worn with loose ends heading upwards, forming the shape of the letter “V” – an international symbol for “Victory”. An alternate way of folding the ribbon is in the shape of the number 11 to represent the date of the most important victory for Latvia.
The ribbons are worn until the Independence Day, the 18th of November, but most people acquire them a week before, making sure they have some spare ribbons for their families, friends or any fellow compatriots met along the festivities. It is a great way to honour the state of Latvia and its people, no matter where in the world one finds oneself this special time, and an opportunity to remember and share the story of our beautiful land, its history, culture and heroes.
We welcome you to get your own carmine-white-carmine Patriot Ribbon and join the celebration!
Lāčplēsis Day or how the Latvian heroes were born
The Patriot Week in Latvia begins with commemoration events of Lāčplēsis Day and culminates with a cheerful celebration of state anniversary. First we pay tribute to the soldiers who gave their lives for the freedom of Latvia, and then it is time to celebrate the foundation of our country. The historical events that took place almost a century ago happened in a reverse order, perhaps to remind us that we must stay vigilant and protect our country’s independence every day.
Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia on November 18, 1918, took place at the current National Theatre of Latvia in an elated and festive atmosphere. The ceremony commenced with a collective singing of the national anthem “God, Bless Latvia“ (Dievs, svētī Latviju), followed by speeches from statesmen Gustavs Zemgals and Kārlis Ulmanis who talked about the bright future of the independent state of Latvia and its people.
Though highly optimistic and idealistic, the well-educated leaders of Latvia knew that hard battles are still ahead of the newly formed state to secure its independence. And, indeed, there were. The freedom fights of Latvia lasted for almost two years, starting with proclamation of the state on November 18, 1918, and ending by signing of the peace treaty with Russia on August 11, 1920.
During Latvia’s fight for freedom, there was one battle that gained eternal glory, and the Latvian soldiers who took part in that battle will always be praised as the first heroes of the independent Latvia. It happened on November 11, 1919, when the newly formed Latvian Army, with 15-year-old boys fighting alongside experienced men, defeated the Russian-German troops led by Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, an army three times the size of the Latvian forces.
To honour this historical victory, November 11 was immediately declared a national day of remembrance and named after Lāčplēsis, the strongest heroic character of Latvian folklore. The Lāčplēsis War Medal, awarded to freedom fighters for their extraordinary bravery, became the highest military award of the first state of Latvia. Between 1920 and 1940, the medal was awarded to 2146 national heroes.
Every year on Lāčplēsis Day we honour our heroes by placing lit candles in the windows of our homes or at the November 11 Embankment in Riga, named after the historic victory over the Bermondt army. Other traditional Lāčplēsis Day activities involve a Torchlight Procession though Old Riga, the honorary change of guard at the Freedom Monument, oecumenical services in the churches throughout Latvia as well as reconstructions of freedom battles across the country.
Lāčplēsis Day serves as a reminder to every citizen that one is not born as a hero, one becomes a hero, and courage is a conscious decision. Thus November 11 provides a good opportunity for everyone to look into one’s own heart and ask oneself – what can I do for my family, my people and our country.
Awaken the hero within you!
Identity as the source of strength
“Identity is the basis for creativity and productivity. There is not a single person without a spark of creativity.” These were the words of the ex-president of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, who spent more than 50 years of her life in six different countries on three different continents.
How do we answer the question of who we are? What is this special characteristic, which makes us, individuals, and Latvians as a nation, different from billions of others living in this world? Profound understanding of our own identity makes us special and interesting to others.
In the age of globalisation many young people consider themselves citizens of the world, thus the nationality as a part of own identity plays a diminishing role. However, the national identity – connection to a place of birth or where the roots of our parents are – goes beyond speaking a particular language or carrying a passport. Our system of values, way of thinking and models of behaviour, as well as sense of humour, is rooted in our belonging to a particular culture and traditions. For example, in which other country in Europe the knowledge on edible mushrooms or characteristics of medicinal herbs is retained, where else the daily life goes in accordance with the Moon calendar and know-how of ancestors are applied? The ancient Latvian respect and love of nature has transformed into innovative ideas in design, architecture, business and science.
Identity is like a human DNA, which we cannot change as easily as a name in the passport. Maybe we fully understand it only when we experience other cultures and countries, gaining understanding of how different, or similar we are. Latvian people not only possess their unique taste, favourite smells and flavours, but also a special regard for one’s family and loyalty to friends. Even gardening chores are planned according to ancestors’ know-how rather than contemporary Roman calendar.
We can try to become British, French or Scandinavian, or we can also choose a different path – remain being Latvian, carrying our belonging to this country with pride wherever our fate may bring us. As is with trees, strong roots allow us to grow strong and respected by others. Let us be proud of ourselves, of the achievements of our compatriots and our country, Latvia, wherever and whenever possible!
November 18 quotes from Latvian presidents
Since the foundation of the country in 1918, Latvia has had nine presidents, whose official celebratory addresses on November 18 have become an indispensable part of the festive tradition. On Latvia’s 98th birthday let us remember their words which paint the history and challenges of our country for almost a century.
Gustavs Zemgals in 1931, during the cornerstone celebration of the Monument of Freedom: “To state to our next generations about how important freedom is to this nation, how costly it was bought by the lives of heroes and how highly held and regarded it should be by the next generations, which will inherit this holy gift to be never let out of their hands.”
Alberts Kviesis, on November 18, 1935, during the unveiling ceremony of the Monument of Freedom: “People have not only material cares and worries, but the monument attests to our ability to care for spiritual values, and the peak of this monument, it tends towards the sun, stars and skies – let it remind us of the need of our people to always remember about needs of our soul, the spiritual food, which is needed both for an individual and the people.”
Kārlis Ulmanis, November 18 celebration ceremony: “Let us take home a firm belief to provide, as much as each of us is able, that after 20 years we would gather here again as we stand here today, and for those who we have raised to be as passionate patriots of Latvia as we are today.”
Guntis Ulmanis, November 18, 1997: “And if Latvia is a pearl on the coast of the Baltic Sea, as was said by Pope John Paul II, this pearl must shine brightly amidst the community of European countries of the future.”
Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, November 18, 1999, the Dome Square in Riga: “I believe in future Latvia. I believe in the people of Latvia. In particular, I believe in you who is listening to this and hearing my voice. It is you whom Latvia needs. Latvia awaits you.”
Valdis Zatlers in 2010: “National celebrations are the time when we feel particularly patriotic. Once I asked a Latvian soldier: “What gives you strength during the hard and dangerous moments during the missions?” He said: “If you are a patriot of your own country everything is easy because you clearly see the meaning of your work and life.”
Andris Bērziņš in 2011: “Let us not seek enemies! Let us seek kindred spirits! Let us support one another! Help those who are yet unable or no more able to help themselves! Our fate and fate of Latvia is only in our own hands.”
Raimonds Vējonis in 2015: “You are the heroes, who make our country stronger and safer every day – you are Latvia! We are Latvia! Let us thank each other and say it loud in our hearts. Let us celebrate this day with gratefulness, happiness and love for each other and our homeland!”
What shall we wish ourselves, our people and our country this year?
Preparing for Latvia’s Centennial
This year, we celebrate Latvia’s 98th birthday, already thinking of its upcoming centennial on November 18, 2018. While preparing for the grand celebration, it is time to define new goals for ourselves and agree on those values we wish to take with us for the upcoming hundred years.
On November 18, 1918, during the ceremony of proclamation of Latvia 38 members of People’s Council understood it was only a beginning and the future would bring difficult tasks. Just like at school when each year of studies is more complex than the previous one. However, the happiness for one’s own country was greater than the fear of future difficulties.
And indeed, until 1940 Latvia blossomed, and the national self-esteem of the Latvian people become stronger. But the period of independence was followed by Soviet occupation, during which the nation lost its brightest and most talented minds, the economy built during the independence was destroyed, and the Soviet power attempted to crush the self-esteem and the free will of the people.
But the idea of a free and independent Latvia was not to be crushed. In 1980s, the individual creative protest manifestations of brave young artists, writers, poets and other activists gradually turned into a national movement of protest. On August 23, 1989, during the Baltic Way manifestation, two million people in all three Baltic countries joined hands to testify their wish to be free again. This 600 km long human chain which started in Tallinn, Estonia and led through Latvia all the way to Vilnius, Lithuania, was the grandest flash-mob in the modern history that inspired people all across the world. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence on May 4, 1990, the country of Latvia, in which we currently live, was reborn.
Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of Latvia, said in her public address on July 29, 2001: “We are a rich nation because we have inherited a lot. We are a beautiful nation because our heritage has been sifted and tested through centuries. We only have what was recognized as good. [..] We have been given our history so that we could choose how to handle it, how to accept it and make it ours.”
The human history has seen the rise and fall of many nations and countries. Today, 7 billion people live in 200 countries, and 0.029% of them live in Latvia. Our country is so small that its existence is a miracle, to be protected and cherished. The world is open, and information technologies allow us to be a part of the Latvian information space regardless of our physical location. But the Latvian state cannot exist without our physical participation – or the name “Latvia” might become nothing more than just a domain in the virtual space, and its land turn into an anonymous point of destination in the global movement of goods. Only our willingness to be a part of this land and people, readiness to act together, will provide a meaning to Latvia, to exist and develop for the next hundred years.
Thousands of years ago Aristotle defined that the supreme meaning for founding a state: “A state is founded not for us to survive in it, but mostly – for us to live happily in it.” The state of Latvia was born in difficult times, and during its first hundred years, its existence has been a story of survival and self-preservation. So let us unite our common efforts and positive thinking to live a happy and prosperous life from now on.
© The Latvian Institute 2016; Photos: Kaspars Stūrītis; NBS; Ilmārs Znotiņš; Valsts Kanceleja; Latvijas Valsts prezidenta kanceleja; Edijs Pālens/LETA; Aivars Liepiņš